Today's Papers

Budget Bombs

The Washington Postleads with Pentagon and congressional officials saying the administration, if it’s still around post-inauguration, plans to ask for about $70 billion in emergency military funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. That would bring the total cost of operations since the beginning of the invasion to $225 billion. The Post mentions that the Army’s “deferral of needed repairs over the past year” has added to the bill. The State Department and CIA will be making their own requests for cash. The New York Timesleads with “administration officials” saying the White House has decided —via a “new legal opinion”—that despite pronouncements suggesting otherwise, foreign fighters captured in Iraq are notprotected by the Geneva Conventions and can be shipped out the country. USA Todayleads with the Supreme Court’s announcement that Chief Justice Rehnquist has thyroid cancer and has been given a tracheotomy . The court is keeping quiet on Rehnquist’s condition—the NYT notes that the court “declined to say” whether Rehnquist got additional surgery—but independent doctors said a tracheotomy is a hint that it’s serious. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick ponders the implications, or lack thereof.  The Los Angeles Timesleads with a poll showing Bush and Kerry tied among both registered and likely voters. USAT has a poll showing Bush five points ahead, a bit narrower than the same poll a week ago.

The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with Bush on the campaign trail battling (without mentioning) bad news, in particular the missing 380 tons of high-grade explosives in Iraq. Pam Am Flight 103 was brought down by one-half pound of the stuff.  U.N. inspectors, whom the administration would not let return post-invasion, last saw the stockpile shortly before the war and had warned the U.S. about it.

Over the weekend, the Post reported that the CIA has taken some Iraqi prisoners out of the country, in defiance of the Geneva Conventions. The unnamed administration officials in the NYT’s lead argue that with the new legal finding, the policy is legit. “No matter what the provision is in the Geneva Convention, they are subject to legal interpretation,” said a “Justice Department official.” The NYT doesn’t check that with outside counsel.

The Post’s editorial page doesn’t need to: “While blaming the crimes at Abu Ghraib on a small group of low-ranking soldiers, the White House, the Pentagon and the CIA have fought to preserve the exceptional and sometimes secret policies that allow U.S. personnel to violate the Geneva Conventions and other laws governing the handling and interrogation of foreign detainees. Under those policies, practices at odds with basic American values continue—even if there are no sensational photos to document them.”

In Iraq violence: A bomb exploded near the Australian embassy, killing three Iraqis and wounding three Australian soldiers. Elsewhere in Baghdad, an Estonian soldier was killed and five wounded by a roadside bomb. In Mosul, three Iraqis were killed when insurgents bombed a government building. And a city councilman was assassinated just south of Baghdad. The Post counts “at least 13 Iraqis” killed, including five civilians in fighting Ramadi. The WP also says a suicide car bomber hit a U.S. convoy just south of Baghdad, but there was no word of casualties.

A USAT front-pager says the Pentagon is “considering” adding 20,000 troops to Iraq for January’s elections, probably by simply holding over GIs who are slated to go home. The Journal made a similar suggestion last month.

The NYT goes inside with a top NASA scientist who plans to give a speech today slamming the president for dilly-dallying on, and denying, global warming.

In another impressive assessment, the Post looks at President Bush’s record on counter-proliferation. The paper says Libya has been a success—albeit with a big assist by Britain—while the policies, or lack thereof, on North Korea and Iran have been disastrous. Iran has marked by paralyzing disputes within the administration, while the administration essentially put off Pyongyang, a policy one “participant” in decisions called “no carrot, no stick and no talk.” The Post also says the U.S. had solid info about A.Q. Khan’s order-nukes-by-mail business in early 2001 but waited a year and a half to deal, and then only after the strong urging of the British. “They made no attempt to get a handle on his activities abroad,” said one former Bush assistant secretary of state. 

All of which one former Ford and Clinton-era official called second-fiddle to the “principal, major national security threat to the United States”: loose nukes in Russia. The Post says the White House has proposed cutting funds to the program that helps secure them.